Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Holy Land Pilgrimage, Second Report

I'm hoping I can add pictures today.  Had a terrible Internet connection yesterday.  Barely able to get one picture and the text in.  Let's see what happens tonight,.

Looks like I'm going to have to wait until I get back and set up something, maybe on Picasa, for pictures.
I can't tell if both images (oil press and sacred pole) will come through.  May have to stick to text.

Well -- It's taking forever to load images.  I'll only do a little.  And I can't seem to move them in the text.
Image 1:  an oil press
Image 2:  Ancient Canaanite fertility sacred pole at Hazor

03-10-10; Hazor,Korazim,Bethsaida,Capernaum,Eremos,Tabgha

Hazor: Joshua conquered Hazor and Solomon made it one of his three fortified cities, with Megiddo and Gerza.  We went through the gate, a strong one that was never breached.  Two towers and six chambers for archers to shoot a crossfire enfilade if the gates were to fall.  It never fell.  In peace, the elders executed judgement at the gate.  In the double walls of the city was room for people to live (remember Rahab?), but if attackers threatened, the rooms would be filled with rubble to create a very wide wall, 10 feet or more. 

We imagined the stories of Boaz settling with his cousin for the right to marry Ruth and the story of Solomon judging between two mothers who both claimed a child – issues probably decided at a gate like this. 

We visited a typical 4-room house, an ethnic marker that the settlement was an Israelite community.  The north room would have been the place where the whole family slept, the mother near the door, father at the end of the room, children between.  (Makes the story of the person who awakened the household to ask for bread and was refused take on some real color.  The whole household would have been disturbed to respond.)  The front of the house included living areas, kitchen and a hall down the middle.

We looked at an ancient olive press.  Olives and olive oil was used for flavor, used to cook, as food, as soap, as fuel for lamps, and the husk of olives will create a fire that burns at 1600 degrees, hot enough to fire a kiln.

Hazor was an ancient city, possibly the greatest city on earth around 2500 BCE.  We visited a palace from that era made with mud bricks hardened with straw – bricks that are still substantial and functional 4500 years later.

The sacred area of Hazor was a holy place for one of the most widespread religions of the ancient world, the Canaanite cult of Baal.  The creator God El (incorporated somewhat into Hebrew tradition) and his wife Asheroth had four children: Yam, the God of Sea (=Chaos), Mot of the Underworld, Baal the God of rain and order, and the goddess Anat.  (I'm not sure of these spellings) Baal and Yam fought for dominance – order vs. Chaos.  Mot joined Yam and Anat favored Baal.  In the struggle, Baal was victorious.  In celebration, he and Anat enjoyed conjugal relations, thus life and order were restored to the earth, overcoming Chaos and darkness. 

Each year the struggle is repeated, and earth's restoration hangs in the balance.  To encourage the divine combatants, the people would come to a sacred place as found in Hazor and remind Baal and Anat of the reward awaiting their victory.  Devotees would partake in sexual activity with the male and female temple prostitutes.  At Hazor is a sacred pole, a phallic standing stone.  There would have been a terebinth tree as well, the sacred tree that opens up as it grows.  The sexual cult sought to influence the outcome of the divine struggle to free and renew the world. 

The Hebrew religion struggled side by side with the Canaanite religion, with many of the Israelites participating in both religious traditions, at least until the Exile.  For Jews, the Exile was God's great punishment for their infidelity.  After the Exile, Israelites never practiced the Canaanite fertility religions again. 

Some demographics from Jesus' time:  In Galilee Herod Antipas (the one who executed John the Baptist) had a strong agricultural base, but no port to establish shipping and no profitable Temple and religious center like Jerusalem.  He found it necessary to raise taxes, and as he did, many peasant landowners found they had to give up their land to tax foreclosure.  Absentee Romans brought the lands and entrusted their management to local stewards.  Displaced former landowners became day laborers who found themselves in a day-to-day struggle to earn enough each day for the "bread for the morrow."  (cf. the Lord's Prayer) 

Nearly all of the wealth was concentrated in the hands of the urban elite (approximately 2% of the population).  There was a small middle class who worked for the elite (3-5%), and almost 95% of the population was peasant – day laborers and such.  At the low end of the peasant group were shepherds, fishermen, and stoneworkers (like Joseph and Jesus).  Below them were the unclean  (5%) and the expendable impoverished (5%) whose lives were especially short and brutish.  Infant mortality: 30% died within one year.  One in four births ended in the mother's death.  By age 16, 60% died; by 25, 90%; by 45, 90%.  Only 3% of the population reached age 60.  Most adults had bad eyesight, few teeth, and all had lice and other parasites.  The average lifespan for males: age 27; for females: 18. 

For a family to survive, a woman needed to have a child nearly every year.  These demographics put the passage about the people bringing little children to Jesus in a different light.  These parents were desperate.  They brought the children to Jesus begging his blessing, hoping that their children wouldn't die.  How powerful would the Gospel of Good News to the poor have felt, especially the promise of divine healing, hope and love for those whose lives were so threatened. 

Korazim – the synagogue at Korazim was probably affiliated with the conservative Shammai tradition.  Maybe Jesus' Sabbath encounters happened here, when his disciples picked grain on the Sabbath (there is a project to recover the grain that was prominent in this village area); and when Jesus cured the man with a withered hand on the Sabbath and incurred the wrath of the local religious authorities.

This village is built with charcoal gray indigenous basalt rock.  The excavations are third century CE ruins.  We visited a compelling synagogue and several homes, some with stone roofs supported by several interior stone arches.

The village of Bethsaida was a real treat.  Bethsaida was lost until just a few years ago when an archeologist who was a mentor of my friend Charles Page proposed that a tell some distance from Lake Galilee was actually Bethsaida.  He was right.  An earthquake in 749 had destroyed the city and changed the topography, creating a plain where the lake had been formerly. 

Bethsaida was the home of Peter, Andrew and Philip.  (maybe James and John) The first century ruins include a street that Jesus no doubt walked down.  There is the home of a wine merchant, complete with wine cellar, and a home called the "home of the fisherman," which is a typical 1st century home in this fishing village, something like what Peter would have lived in. 

Adjacent to Bethsaida is an much older city which was the capitol of the nation of Gesher.  Absalom married a princess from Gesher, and fled here during his conflict with David.  We looked at the 10th century BCE walls that were protected from Assyrian battering rams by a glacis wall that threw the rams off.  But this is one of the few cities whose walls were breached.  Signs of the battle show places where burning brick became so hot that it melted against the volcanic balsamic rock near the city gate which was destroyed by Assyrians in 733.

Capernaum – became Jesus' headquarters and home town.  Started in only the 2nd century BCE, Capernaum is another city on the shores of Lake Galilee.  Peter moved here from his home in Bethsaida.  That is unusual.  Most people in that time did not move from their hometown. 

Maybe Peter moved here if his wife had no brothers to inherit her parents' home, so that the Capernaum home went to the daughter, Peter's wife. 

There is an ancient tradition of devotion dating from the first century located in a particular room that has been identified with Peter since that time.  In the middle of the first century the function of the room changed from private to public.  People speculate: Did Jesus sleep/stay there?  Was this the room where Jesus lived when living in Capernaum?  Did Jesus heal Peter's mother-in-law here, or heal the Centurian's daughter here?

We know the room has been marked for devotion and was shown to travelers in the 200's CE as the home of St. Peter.   When the building was changed in the 4th century, a church was built centered over the site, saved the room as a focus for devotion.  In the 5th century, the Byzantines constructed an octagonal church over the room.  Th0se walls are very visible today.   In the ancient room was graffiti referring to Peter, a drawing of the cosmic cross, and a precursor drawing of a chi rho.  In 614 that church was destroyed by Muslims and a subsequent earthquake destroyed the city.

There is a compelling restoration of the Capernaum Byzantine synagogue of white marble that is on the foundations of the synagogue Jesus would have visited.  The synagogue of Jesus day was building financed by the Centurian that Jesus befriended.  That synagogue was the setting of Jesus' Sabbath day healing of a man with a withered hand, an event that brought great celebration to the congregation, followers of the liberal Pharisee Hillel who believed that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  A very different synagogue from the one in Korazine. 

We visited a Roman Catholic chapel on a traditional sight on a nearby mountain where it is claimed Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. 

At Tabga there is a 5th century church commemorating the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, with a beautiful mosaic of two fish flanking a bowl/plate with four loaves of fish.  The missing fifth loaf would be the bread of the altar.

We also visited the Church of Peter's Primacy, the traditional location of Jesus' post-resurrection appearance to Peter when he asked him three times, "Peter do you love me?" and Peter replied, "Yes, Lord" three times, and was given the command to Tend and Keep my sheep. 

Afterward, several of us hiked up a hill to a small cave, called "Eremos" – a deserted place, where it was easy to imagine Jesus retiring for prayer and reflection.  Our guide imagined Jesus praying here, seeing the disciples' boat being threatened by the storm, and walking to them to calm the storm.  The cave was a very moving place for me.  And as we hiked to the bottom of the hill, the trail came to an overflowing garbage bin.  There was something appropriate about leaving a quiet, deserted place of refreshment and meditation, where Jesus' spirit felt palpable, only to encounter the garbage heap so near, reminding us of our the need to clean up and serve the world. 

We returned to Tiberius.  Tomorrow we will make our way to Bethlehem.



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